The Needles

The Needles
Smart Answers To Silly Questions

Andy Chalk | 3 Jun 2008 21:00
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It's bad enough when boneheads kill people and blame it on videogames, but apparently now we don't even have to wait that long for the excuses to start flying. Despite growing evidence to the contrary, the assumed connection between videogaming and criminal behavior is becoming so prevalent that even the most tenuous links are enough to trot out the same old question: Did the games make him do it?

It's a safe bet that similar questions weren't sent to a movie reviewer, or a literary critic, or even the receptionist at the local cable station. So why games? Do superficial similarities to Grand Theft Auto gameplay and proximity to the game's release date imply causality sufficiently for a major broadcaster to start looking at the "mad gamer" angle without any external prodding? Or is it more likely, despite all the work of the industry and gaming communities worldwide, simply a case of media bias?

If the mainstream media has fallen prey to the kind of misinformed or deceitful hype driven by the likes of Jack Thompson and Keith Vaz, it means that despite our best efforts and highest hopes, we really haven't come as far as we'd thought. The idea of videogames being held in the same cultural esteem as music, books and movies is promising, and in my opinion inevitable, but despite the unprecedented growth in the financial and demographic viability of the medium over the past decade, we're obviously not there yet.

It's easy enough to dismiss Fox News as nothing more than a source of low-brow rhetoric for people of that inclination, but underestimating the influence of such sources is unwise. Researchers at McGill University may say there's no compelling evidence to suggest that violent videogames lead to violent behavior in real life, but that won't mean much to an awful lot of people if the well-coiffed man on the television says otherwise. These are delicate times; the industry's successes inevitably inspire greater determination in its detractors, and while the increasingly strident cries of the most vehement critics may be nonsensically amusing from a gamer's perspective, they can be very polarizing for people who are ignorant of the facts of the debate.

Such as, for instance, the fact that the "young guy" at the root of all this kerfuffle is 27 years old, young from some perspectives but hardly an age typically associated with "game-inspired" crime. A simple oversight on the part of the producer, or a couching of terms for better headlines? No way to know, but my reply to the CBC pointed out that the offender in this case wasn't exactly a naive kid who was led down the path of sin by a videogame he wasn't yet mature enough to process. It was all very polite and respectful, and even offered a few places for the producer to begin her own research into the impact of videogames.

I haven't heard back yet. I doubt I will.

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